The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta offered the 33-year-old a new chance. A sponsor hired him as a security guard and gave him the opportunity to live his passion surrounded by an international audience.
Clint Eastwood, 90, now has from Jewell’s story of suffering made a moviemay be his last, given his age. Still and pertinent in its narrative style, this is still a typical Eastwood: battered loner against evil state, the honor of a man against the ruin of a system.
As one of the thousands of reporters who flew in to the games, I witnessed this grotesque show myself. The IOC had invested a lot of money in the security measures, the city had meanwhile banished all homeless people from the center. Instead, hostesses were grinning everywhere.
The new Olympic Park in the middle was a Potemkin village, which was supposed to hide the dreary concrete desert of the downtown area and at the same time served as a huge advertising space, with marquees for the sponsors. Above all, Coca-Cola, which is headquartered in Atlanta and paid $ 40 million to call itself an “official soft drink.”
“The history of these Olympic Games,” Mayor Bill Campbell told us at the time, “will ultimately be the story of a city that triumphed over tragedy.” Atlanta, which had burned down in the civil war and then rose again, would not be put down by a bomb. The legend had to be maintained, no matter what the price.
The price was Richard Jewell. He seemed predestined for the role of the scapegoat: good faith, overzealous, naive. When the pipe bomb exploded, he was in the right place and yet in the wrong place. CNN interviewed him, NBC presenter Tom Brokaw, a favorite star of his mother, called him a hero.
How exactly the FBI came up with this idea is not clear from the story shortened for the screen. Eastwood focuses on an unscrupulous – and fictional – FBI agent (Jon Hamm) and a former boss Jewells who denounced him.
Still, Jewell idolized the FBI agents because he wanted to be as happy as she was. Finally, he passed a polygraph test. The FBI – which had found nothing to arrest, let alone accuse him – gave up and officially declared him exonerated.
But this is more than an FBI story going astray. It is the story of an America in which the presumption of innocence only applies until the first breaking news. All US media pounced on the alleged perpetrator. Jewell later sued for large damages from CNN, NBC and the “New York Post”. Only the “AJC” withdrew from the affair by blaming the FBI.
Old sins, new arguments
None of this is documented, not even in the book “Suspect” or the “Vanity Fair” article, which served as a source for screenwriter Billy Ray, a specialist in documentary dramas (“Captain Phillips”). Scruggs can no longer defend herself, she died in 2001.
The controversy surrounding this one scene led to the film flopping in the United States in December. The “AJC” threatened Eastwood with a lawsuit, Ray accused the newspaper of covering up their misconduct, even Olivia Wilde sat down in the nettles with a misguided distancing. Of course, none of this changes the original mistake of the newspaper.
“The case of Richard Jewell” is still worth seeing, solely as a tribute to a simple man to whom evil occurs. The real assassin was a serial bomber named Eric Rudolph, a cop caught him by accident in 2003 without the FBI’s help. Jewell died four years later at the age of only 44.